Fiscal Cliff, Entitlements, and Energy Workers

Updated 2 years ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net, by Terrie Barrie
Fiscal Cliff, Entitlements, and Energy Workers

By now, you are all either very worried about the negotiations going on to avoid the government plunging over the fiscal cliff or sick of hearing about it.  Unfortunately, it’s a very real thing and will likely affect all of us in some way.

The discussion about cutting “entitlement” programs scares the bejeebers out of me.  Will the cuts be to the administrative side of the programs or will it be across the board and affect the compensation paid out?  I don’t know.

You hear about the threats to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  All are defined as “entitlement” programs.  So is the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA).  This program was set up in 2001 to compensate Department of Energy (DOE) contract workers made ill by their daily exposures to radioactive and other toxic substances for years on end.  The workplace environments have been described as a “toxic soup” and as a “cancer cocktail”.  These workplaces are unlike any other industrial factory on earth.  The workers were not exposed to just a handful of carcinogenic materials but to literally thousands of them.  And on top of that there was all of that radiation floating around – escaping from gloveboxes, hiding in ventilation systems and catching on fire -creating all kinds of havoc.

Years ago, when these workers became ill and sought workers compensation through their state programs, the contractors would contest the claim.  Not only would they argue that the illness wasn’t related to the nuclear weapons facility, but DOE would actually reimburse the contractor to fight these claims.  The workers or their survivors never had a chance against these odds.

So back to the fiscal cliff and entitlement programs.  I hate the term “entitlement program”.  It’s misleading.  It sounds to me that people are expecting something that they don’t deserve.  Take Social Security – we all pay into it at some point in our lives.  We deserve the return.  These nuclear weapons workers were poisoned through no fault of their own and deserve to be cared for.  They were lied to by their bosses, they were placed in harm’s way unnecessarily because either the companies wanted a bigger profit margin or there was the push to get the product – nuclear warheads – quickly into our nuclear arsenal. 

Ok, one might argue that was the way it was during the Cold War.  Fine.  I can almost understand the need for the contractors to turn a profit and for the U.S. to maintain a strong defense.  But at the expense of the workers?  I am in awe of the workers who toiled at these facilities.  Their patriotism is beyond reproach.  Sure they made a buck but they also helped keep Americans safe during that very scary time by doing the jobs they did.  However,  they were not told the entire truth about the exposures and what it could do to their health.

If any population deserves to have their “entitlement” program left alone it is these sick workers or their survivors.  The government and their contractors owe them.  The claimants should not be crawling on their knees with their arms outstretched pleading for the same medical and financial compensation a worker in a steel mill would receive if he fell off a ladder and could not work anymore.  As one dear advocate friend of mine often tells me, none of these nuclear weapons workers went to work expecting to get sick.

These claimants are not "entitled".  They deserve everything they were promised.

No one from the Administration or Congress asked for my opinion on where cuts should be made.  Most likely an oversight on their part J  But I have a two that should shave a few million dollars off of EEOICPA’s administrative costs.

Reduce the number of claims referred to a Contract Medical Consultant (CMC).  

The Department of Labor’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (DEEOIC) awarded a contract to QTC, a Lockheed Company, to provide qualified physicians who will review claims and offer an opinion as to whether an illness was the result of the workplace exposures.  This contract is worth $18 million over five years.  QTC expects almost 7,000 claims to review annually.   

http://www.qtcm.com/general/press_releases/dol_dmcc.asp

How can this be done and still maintain the scientific integrity of the decision?  It’s easy!  In fact, DEEOIC has part of the answer but just hasn’t implemented it completely.  Back in 2004, DEEOIC consulted with Econometrica for advice on how to implement Part E of EEOICPA.  You can find the report here

http://www.dol.gov/owcp/energy/regs/compliance/PartE/econometrica/DOL_Part_E_Final_Report.htm

DEEOIC’s Procedure Manual does provide guidance to the claims examiner (CE) on how to weigh the evidence.  However, I recently have been hearing that all lung conditions are being referred to the CMC.  This is not necessary if the CE explains in detail to the treating physician what is required in his/her report.  DEEOIC does not reimburse the personal treating physician (PTP) for the report, so explaining in detail what is necessary for the PTP to relay to DEEOIC would save money and likely get the claim approved.

Additionally, DEEOIC contracted with the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine to review the Site Exposure Matrix (SEM).  One aspect of the review is to determine whether other diseases should be included in the SEM that can be related to exposure to toxic substances.  I for one am looking forward to this review and to see how DEEOIC plans to incorporate the recommendations.

End the contract with Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) for the Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) Petition review contract. 

ORAU’s contract with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) responsibility under EEOICPA is $31,404,290.00 from 5/1/12 to 4/30/13.  This amount includes developing methodologies to reconstruct dose, reconstructing dose for individual claims and developing site profiles.

 http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ocas/pdfs/orau/drcntrt2.pdf

The majority of the site profiles are finished.  But let me tell you, if those site profiles were accurate and complete, there probably would not be any SEC petitions filed.  As of September, 2012 over 200 SEC petitions have been filed. 

Some of those petitions were generated by NIOSH.  They would receive a claim, realize that they do not have enough data to reconstruct dose and suggest that that facility be included in the SEC. 

However, many of the petitions for the larger sites, such as Rocky Flats, were filed because NIOSH and/or their contractor ORAU failed consider some of the more important aspects of the radiological hazards present at the facilities.  NIOSH/ORAU was paid for providing inadequate site profiles and then paid to investigate their errors raised by the SEC petitioners.   

If NIOSH/ORAU’s site profile is shown to be deficient, they should not have a second or third bite at the apple.  But yet they do.  Some of these SEC petition discussions – or scientific debates - have lasted five years or more.  I don’t even want to hazard a guess on how much money has been spent on this process.  But I guarantee you it is too much. 

And why is ORAU’s contract increasing when the majority of the larger and more complicated sites have been resolved? 

So that’s my two cents worth.  I figure these suggestions will save the taxpayers almost $20 million per year. A drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, for sure. 

These workers were harmed by working to defend this country.  They are not asking for millions and millions of dollars per person. They are not.  They are only asking for the fair and just compensation they were promised and deserve.  Stop wasting money on some of the administration costs. Get that“entitlement” compensation to the deserving workers or their survivors.

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